I went to my first tech Meetup last Wednesday, at the Blue Ridge Foundation in Cobble Hill.

It was the weekly meetup of “betaNYC”, an offshoot/child of the New York chapter of the national civic hacking organization Code for America. BetaNYC acts as a sort of central forum and platform for various civic-minded hackers and developers to get together and present their projects, get feedback, and seed new collaborations. As someone interested in entering that atmosphere, it seemed like a good place to be.

It was a good event. It was soon clear (not that I was surprised) that my current level of technical skill was too low to be able to engage and contribute directly; nevertheless, listening to and observing the other participants gave me some good initial insights into the culture and structure of that community. I’ll keep attending those events, and others, as the next months unfold.

Tangentially, I was chatting with Ameen, another young developer, and he suggested a “meetup diet” of half interest & application-oriented meetups (like betaNYC), and half language & craft-oriented meetups (focused on the technical and theoretical applications of Ruby and/or Rails). This seems like a very sensible balance – a successful civic technologist would need to maintain citizenship in both the application-agnostic technical world of their craft, and the applied world of civically-oriented development.

Two projects were presented, which seemed of fairly high-quality and represented possible applications of the skills we’re en-route to acquiring to the challenges of harnessing government data.

The first was “Pediacities,” an aesthetically-appealing platform for slicing and sorting a wide array of city data.

The second was an NYC 311 platform (developed by the open data firm Socrata), which allows you to slice and aggregate an enormous dataset of all 311 calls made in NYC.

While both these applications are quite a bit ahead of what I anticipate I’ll be able to build (… any time soon), they can serve as inspiration and a benchmark for how to both use Ruby and Rails to create useful web applications, and how to take advantage of open government data to help citizens run a city.